May 29th, 2013
03:17 PM ET
8 years ago

McCain says State provided security in Syria trip

Updated at 10:43 p.m. ET Wednesday 5/29

(CNN) – The U.S. State Department helped Sen. John McCain with his trip into war-torn Syria this week, the senator from Arizona said Wednesday.

McCain acknowledged on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that the State Department and rebel groups were both involved in providing his security.

"I want to express my appreciation to the State Department," McCain said in the exclusive CNN interview. "The reality is if they had said no, I wouldn't have made this visit. They were very helpful and cooperative, and I'm grateful."

On Monday, McCain slipped across the Syria-Turkey border and became the first U.S. senator to visit the country since civil war broke out more than two years ago. He traveled roughly 1 kilometer inside Syria to meet with rebel leaders from different Syrian cities. He remained in the country for several hours.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed earlier Wednesday in the daily briefing that Secretary of State John Kerry knew beforehand McCain intended to travel to Syria. While she said Kerry and McCain spoke about his trip Tuesday evening, she directed reporters to the senator's office for any further questions.

The White House was also aware of McCain's travel plans, Press Secretary Jay Carney said this week.

McCain declined to give too many details on the logistics of his trip but said the D.C.-based Syrian Emergency Task Force help set up the meetings with rebel groups. He credited Syrians for being "pretty brave in making this happen."

He did not detail how exactly the State Department helped him with security but said Salim Idris, a Syrian rebel general, accompanied him in and out of Syria from Turkey.

McCain is the leading voice in Congress for a greater U.S. role in ending Syria's civil war, which has been waged for more than two years. He has suggested establishing "safe zones" for Syria's rebels and taking out the regime's air assets, along with providing lethal weapons to Syria's opposition.

Meeting members of Syria's opposition face-to-face in the country they're fighting to control deepened his conviction that the United States must become further engaged in the bloody conflict.

The 2008 GOP presidential nominee said meeting 18 commanders with the Free Syrian Army provided an in-the-flesh reminder of the civil war's human cost.

"When you look at the faces of these people and hear their stories, so many of them have lost family members, so many of them have lost friends," McCain said in the interview, speaking from Dubai. "This is a pretty bloody, bloody business that they've been in."

He said Wednesday his positions have hardened now that he's seen the fighters working to oust Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

"Of course it's as you might imagine intensified because these are human beings that are trying to achieve the same thing that we have shed American blood and treasure for, for well over 200 years," he said.

Republicans and Democrats alike have called on President Barack Obama to ramp up support for Syrian rebels, who now receive nonlethal aid like food and medicine from the United States. In early April that aid was stepped up to include equipment such as body armor, night vision goggles and other military equipment that is considered defensive in nature.

In their meeting with McCain, leaders of the Syrian rebel forces pressed the United States to provide them with weapons to continue their fight against Assad. They specifically said they need ammunition, as well as antitank and antiaircraft weapons, McCain said.

"They do not understand why we won't help them," he said.

They also called for the United States to "take greater leadership in supporting the rebels in a more serious manner," according to Mouaz Moustafa, who helps run the group that organized McCain's trip.

"Their main message was that we are desperate for ammunition. We are desperate for weapons," Moustafa said.

U.S. officials from both parties have expressed concerns about American arms ending up in the hands of terrorists in Syria should the United States decide to provide rebels with lethal aid. Members of al-Nusra Front, which is designated by the United States as a pro-al Qaeda terrorist group, have joined the rebels in their fight against Assad.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, for example, has been outspoken about his opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria. In a new opinion piece for CNN.com, Paul writes that arming the rebels would be "complicated and dangerous" and "could actually help the extremists."

He also took subtle jabs at McCain, pointing to the senator's switch in support from former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the rebels seeking his demise.

OPINION: Helping Syrian rebels a dangerous risk, Rand Paul says

McCain told CNN that members of the extremist group represent only 7% of the 100,000 total rebel forces. "We can help the right people," he said. "Is there some risk involved? Absolutely. But is the status quo acceptable?"


Filed under: AC360 • John McCain • Syria
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. just askin

    too bad obama wasn't a born leader like mccain. obama thinks you can lead from behind. spoken like a true follower.

    May 29, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  2. Joan

    Unfortunately for Mr. McCain, the administration has been mulling intelligently and carefully over many options over the past few months and along with other countries help will act when the time is right. The talks that Sec. of State Kerry will have with Russia should be helpful too. There is probably a lot going on that McCain has no clue about. All Mr. McCain has done is prove that he wants the spotlight even though his trip really has no new information to add to the situation. All show and no substance.

    May 29, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  3. sonny chapman

    Let's jump in with both feet, eyes closed & holding our nose. I'm sure the water's just fine.

    May 29, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  4. Leah K.

    You're a has been, McCain. And we do realize that you didn't even know where you were half the time 10 years ago.

    May 29, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  5. just sayin

    Joan
    Unfortunately for Mr. McCain, the administration has been mulling intelligently and carefully over many options over the past few months
    -–
    months??? try two years.

    and along with other countries help will act when the time is right. The talks that Sec. of State Kerry will have with Russia should be helpful too
    --
    yeah, cooperation from russia like they are now saying they will send assad more modern air defense systems. that is called spitting directly in obama's face. they know he's a joke.

    you are the typical ill-informed obama supporter.

    May 29, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  6. Laverne

    WE ARE BROKE, CAN'T AFFORD TO GO TO WAR!!! It is indeed horrific to watch what is going on, but US can't police and patrol every single war, especically civil wars. The real leader, did not rush to put more of our people in harms way and get us into another war that can potentially end up being diastrous for us!

    May 29, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  7. sonny chapman

    Hey Just Askin, why don't you grab all of your AR-15s & catch a plane to Turkey to help out the Anti-Assad factions. I'd be careful of where I slept each night. Some of this 7%(?) are hard to tell form the "Good Guys" & they love killing Americans in THEIR part of the World more than anything else.

    May 29, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. Laverne

    @ just sayin: NEWS FLASH, McCain is not the Commander in Chief and does not make the call where and when we go to war! He can mull all he want to, but that call belongs to Obama, why don't you go sign up for the military and volunteer to be on the front line just in case they get the call. I can't believe you made your blog even suggest McCain is more than the senior leader over the Armed Force Committee, no real power AT ALL, just recommendations!

    May 29, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  9. WB

    "When you look at the faces of these people and hear their stories, so many of them have lost family members, so many of them have lost friends," McCain said. "This is a pretty bloody, bloody business that they've been in."
    ------
    Yeah....let's get a piece of that action before all the good killing is over with!!!! Sounds like fun!!

    Peace.

    May 29, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  10. ThinkAgain

    @just askin: "too bad obama wasn't a born leader like mccain. obama thinks you can lead from behind. spoken like a true follower."

    Too bad you've never sat in on a national security briefing and don't know what the heck you're talking about. McCain isn't privy to these conversations, either, which is why he is ALSO talking out of his hat.

    BTW, have you enlisted yet? Since you're chomping at the bit to fight, why don't YOU lead the way?

    May 29, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  11. ThinkAgain

    Syria is for the Arab League and possibly Europe to handle – NOT the U.S.

    May 29, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. Tony D

    And when Syria eventually does fall and radical Islamists take over because the USA failed to take the lead and support the people fighting for their freedom from an oppressive dictator? Of course, Obama and the clowns on the left will say "I told you so."

    Coming out early to support the freedom fighters could have prevented all these radicals from flooding in to fill the vacuum created by Obama's failure to lead. Just Obama failed to support the people in the streets of Iran that were begging for his support. But Obama had no trouble whatsoever in throwing our allies under the bus.

    Sort of makes you wonder who's side he is on.

    May 29, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  13. ThinkAgain

    McCain supports further deficit spending to fund war – but not investment in OUR country.

    Makes you wonder whose side he's on ...

    May 29, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  14. mikeb

    Let's donate a fighter jet to the rebels if John McCain agrees to fly it.

    May 29, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  15. ThinkAgain

    McCain and these GOP yahoos are the sames ones who thought invading Iraq without any long-term plan was a good idea.

    May 29, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  16. ThinkAgain

    A majority of Americans DON'T WANT to go to war in Syria.

    A majority of Americans DO WANT universal background checks on gun sales in the U.S.

    Notice a trend here, folks, regarding the GOP response to the will of the American people?

    May 29, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  17. Joe

    Today's brave rebel freedom fighter is tomorrow's America-hating jihadist. But by all means let's arm them. Time for McCain to retire. Bigtime.

    May 29, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain

    @Tony D: "And when Syria eventually does fall and radical Islamists take over because the USA failed to take the lead and support the people fighting for their freedom from an oppressive dictator? "

    Repubs supported elections in Lebanon – until Hezbollah was elected.
    Repubs supported the uprising in Egypt – until the Muslim Brotherhood was elected.

    When the rebels win, they may very well elect fundamentalist Islamists to run their country – how will you feel then?

    May 29, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  19. Jose79845

    Drug war McCain will do anything to escalate a war.

    May 29, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  20. sonny chapman

    Hey Tony D, you've OUTED HIM. Obama is really an anti-Assad Muslim(don't ask me what sect because there are too many). Yes, you sound like McCain who said if we had just stayed in Vietnam longer it would have turned out different. Truth is, Vietnam "fell" to the Communists in 1975 & NOT ONE American life was lost.

    May 29, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  21. bspurloc

    where did he find time for this over benghazi benghazi...... wah wah benghazi...
    I guess mCCain is acting like a true leader now, leading the benghazi witch hunt from behind

    May 29, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  22. LD

    This is a Sunni Shia mess....we (the west) need to stay out and let the Muslims deal with their "reformation." They didnt interfere in the Christian Reformation where millions died in the name of whose brand of Jesus was better, and we shouldnt interfere in theirs.

    May 29, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  23. TP

    McCain...another war hound, he has been pushing for this since the start. Oh there is only a few terrorist groups involved....I DONT THINK SO....again he is a war hound.

    May 29, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  24. Who paid for this?

    Who paid for him to be smuggled into Syria, the security and camera crews? I thought McCain wanted us to stop spending on stuff. Was this paid for by taxpayers?

    May 29, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  25. David

    Since this civil war started just as many americans have died here from gun violence – should focus on this instead of Russia's puppet regime. Also, do you really want to give weapons to the guy that did the Temple of Doom thing and ate someones heart?

    May 29, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
1 2 3 4 5